Leesburg pastor’s historic discovery drives her quest for a new church
Two weeks after buying a 4.4 acre plot of land in Lansdowne for her church's expansion, pastor Michelle Thomas had a dream.
She said she dreamed God told her to research the land, so she went to the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg.
She found that the land soon to house the Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries International church used to be a part of the dairy plantation owned by Leesburg's namesake, Thomas Lee. All of Lansdowne sits on what used to be this plantation.
Hundreds of slaves used to work that land. The revelation sent Thomas on a crusade to reclaim the property under a banner of unity.
Thomas is the first black woman to found a church in Loudoun. Claiming the land's history is important to her. But even more important is what it means.
In her mind, they're buying a part of history, honoring the memory of those who worked the land and pointing to a bright future of unity and equality, which is how she hopes the community will view the project.
“It's about the hope and the dream of our ancestors being realized today,” she said quoting Maya Angalou
Melissa Larson and her family were the first white family to join Thomas's church. She is also the woman who spearheaded buying the property.
For Thomas, the build project itself is an example of respect and collaboration between people of different backgrounds. She points to Larson as the catalyst.
“We're working together to reclaim the land,” Thomas said. “We'd rather tell the story [of the land] from the perspective of two ethnic groups.”
The land was always zoned for a church, and the previous owner had trouble finding buyers until Larson came along. The church's offer was submitted Dec. 15 and accepted three days later. Thomas was amazed at the easy process.
Despite already possessing the necessary zoning, the church isn't taking any risks. They've put in a request for a zoning determination to make sure the “100 member church, preschool, youth center, parsonage and full gymnasium would be permitted on the parcel located at 19245 Snider House Court.”
Once they hear back, the church plans to finish the build by 2016.
The job isn't small. The property is covered in trees and is surrounded by homes.
It hasn't been cheap either, especially for a church with under 100 members. They plan to start a GoFundMe account to help raise money for the build. But the cost is worth it for Thomas.
“I can't really say that we can afford it, but what I can say is we cannot afford not to get it. Given what we've found, we have to get it.”
Thomas told the story of Margaret Mercer, an abolitionist in the 19th century who bought Belmont Plantation in Ashburn.
Though Mercer owned slaves, she taught them to read and write and funded the education of many young African Americans to send them to Liberia as missionaries or settlers as part of the African resettlement movement.
Her plantation neighbored the Thomas Lee property. Thomas said the history of abolition and collaboration has come full circle to present day.
“No matter what your race, your color, your creed is, we're all one working for the same common goal of equality,” Thomas said. “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness … We all want the same things. We all want to be honored. We all want to have hope for the future. We all want to know what our history is. And this is really that type of story.”